Legal departments are unprepared for the coming influx of millennial lawyers, according to a recent report from Thomson Reuters.
The report, “The Generational Shift in Legal Departments,” is based on interviews with more than 150 in-house lawyers of various ages. It found that only 26 percent of legal departments have a succession plan in place to address what happens when baby boomers leave, taking their wealth of institutional knowledge with them.
“Legal departments are coming to the millennial party late as the typical corporate counsel career path includes law school followed by a law firm role, which means millennials are just now starting to work in-house,” the report states. “But the change in status quo can’t be ignored any longer.”
General counsel can start to address these challenges by focusing on areas that are likely to attract and retain millennials: their technological expertise, their desire to be more involved in decision-making and the value they place on mentorship and work/life balance, according to the survey.
For millennials, the ability to personally make a difference at their work is particularly important, says Michelle Silverthorn, a millennial herself and diversity and education director for the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. Offering pro bono opportunities to younger lawyers is one way to address this, Silverthorn says.
Millennials also value transparency—particularly transparency about how they can ascend the corporate ladder, says Caren Ulrich Stacy, founder of the OnRamp Fellowship & Diversity Lab. This can be a major problem for in-house legal departments, she says. At law firms, millennials know when they will go up for promotion and what’s required of them, she says. But the perceived “black box” surrounding advancement in-house could force millennials, who thrive on information, to look elsewhere, Stacy says.
“Legal departments are going to need to communicate on a more routine basis either as a group or to the individual millennial so that he or she knows where he or she stands,” she says. “The best prevention to being poached is having clarity.”
The survey also suggests there are misconceptions about millennials. For one thing, they are more committed to their employers than older colleagues realize. While 69 percent of baby boomers and Gen Xers predict that millennials will stay in their current organization for less than five years, millennials put that figure at only 38 percent—a strong indication that “millennials have ideas about their work goals and job loyalties very different from the ideas boomers and Xers ascribe to them,” Silverthorn says.
“This study makes clear that a lot of misunderstanding still exists between the generations,” she wrote. “Like law firms, corporate legal departments need to encourage open and honest communication across the generations.”